Milton Keynes town joins pioneering pilot in bid to save England’s struggling high streets

Wolverton has been named one of five towns to pilot a Community Improvement District as new figures reveal high street visitors remain 14% down on pre-pandemic levels.

By Olga Norford
Friday, 10th June 2022, 11:23 am

The project is as part of a pioneering new initiative by Power to Change, which backs community business in England that trade for the benefit of local people.

Community Improvement Districts already operate in Scotland and build on Business Improvement Districts, where businesses collaborate to effect change spur regeneration and boost business.

The key difference with Community Improvement Districts is that they seek to provide local people, and community organisations, as well as businesses, a say over the strategic direction of local high streets which is vital to creating sustainable town centres for the future.

Demolition of the Agora shopping centre in Wolverton is under way

The five pilots will begin this month. Each will be awarded a total of £20k alongside expert support and guidance in partnership with Locality to begin establishing, managing and running their Community Improvement District.

The involvement of the community in shaping their town centres will bring many positive impacts, increasing residents’ sense of ownership and responsibility for their high street.

Marie Osbourne, director and chief executive of Future Wolverton Ltd, said: " After over 30 years of community campaigning, the redevelopment of Wolverton's town centre finally begins this year.

"But physical regeneration is only the beginning - the real test will be the extent to which the community can capitalise upon the public sector investment and lead the development of a vibrant High Street. We very much hope that the strengthening of local partnerships through the creation of a Community Improvement District will support this work."

The other Community Improvement District pilots include Skelmersdale, Lancashire; Hendon, Sunderland; Ipswich, Suffolk; Stretford, Greater Manchester.

> Wolverton had been dogged for decades by the Agora Leisure & Shopping Centre, a failed late 1970s scheme designed to modernise Wolverton. Instead, it split the commercial heart and became a blight on the town centre and its conservation area. A £40 million regeneration scheme providing new homes, streets and shops received planning permission in 2019 and the demolition of the Agora Centre is under way.